Day 11: Oxford Free Day (Plus Eurovision Primer)

Those of you who have been keeping up with the blog have seen a couple of students mention Eurovision. What, you may wonder, is a Eurovision?

Well. Imagine that the Olympics and American Idol had a baby, and then they raised that baby to enjoy performing flamboyant shows with lots of pyrotechnics and backup dancers.

Ukraine’s entry from 2009

Sometimes the backup dancers are also bird-men. Or trapped in a box. Or running on a giant hamster wheel.

I wasn’t kidding about any of those. Here’s the bird-man from Malta’s 2010 entry.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual event in which each country in the European Broadcasting Union submits a song entry to be performed on live TV, which is simulcast to every participating country. It actually predates American Idol by a long shot — it’s taken place every year since 1956. Residents of each member country can vote for their favorite performances, but they can’t vote for their own country. You may recognize some previous Eurovision winners: ABBA (Sweden), Celine Dion (Switzerland), and Julio Iglesias (Spain).

Probably fewer of you have heard of the 2006 winners, the heavy metal band Lordi from Finland.

There are two semifinals (the first was Tuesday night; the second is tonight), in each of which 16 countries perform. Twenty total of those 32 countries will advance to the finals on Saturday, where the “Big Five” countries will also join them: the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, all of which have essentially bought their way into the finals by contributing substantial amounts of money to the production.

My room in this hostel is a family room, which includes a bunk bed that has a queen-size bed on the bottom and a twin-size bed on the top. There is also a TV in it and one chair. On Tuesday night, the fifteen of us all crammed into my room (with strict rules about how many could be on the bed — no collapsing bunks here, parents!) to experience the glories of Eurovision.

We will be engrossed in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The First Part of Henry IV during the Eurovision finals on Saturday, so we’re watching the semifinals instead. I think some of the students were surprised by how much they enjoyed the show! Here’s a video of the favorite performance of the night, Iceland’s:

As the hosts announced who would move on to the finals, we grew increasingly anxious. Nine out of the ten finalists had been revealed, and Iceland was not among them. Then the tenth was announced: Iceland! The cheer that went up was deafening! Everyone enjoyed the first semifinal so much that all are planning to watch the second semifinal tonight. Several asked anxiously whether we would be able to find out who wins the final on Saturday!

Now, when I created the syllabus, I scheduled two completely free days: one in Oxford and another in Bath. Before we arrived in Oxford, most students were talking about using the free day here to take a train to London for an extra day of exploration. But now that we’re here, they’ve all decided to spend their time exploring the (free!) museums of Oxford: the Ashmolean, which currently has a Cézanne exhibition; Modern Art Oxford; the Museum of Natural History; and the Pitt Rivers Museum. As is to be expected from the sort of student who would sign up for “A Literary Tour of England,” many plan to browse bookstores today, too, either the chain Waterstone’s or the various used bookstores (Oxfam and so on).

Meanwhile, their professor has spent a glamorous and exciting day in the hostel. I had grading and bookkeeping to catch up on, plus I had to do laundry due to an extremely unfortunate encounter between my shirt and some bird poop. Somehow washing that one in the sink (where I seem only to be able to get lukewarm water, though the shower is always hot) didn’t really seem adequate!

Tomorrow we visit Blenheim Palace, home of the dukes of Marlborough — a family that will be more familiar to most Americans by their surname: Churchill. Surrounded by the splendors of one of the most extravagant country houses in England, we will discuss Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, a play about the blurring of past and present in the very landscape and rooms of the English country house (and, not coincidentally, in the mental spaces of literature, too).

Until then, though, we’re hoping for a particularly outrageous set of Eurovision semifinalists!


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